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Tunisia & the benefits of hindsight 9, January 2012

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
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Published in April 2010, many people have come across this book on Tunisia unerringly failing to discern the way things would go. The Arabist has highlighted perhaps the worst paragraph, its final conclusion:

Authoritarianism in Tunisia could prove to be very durable, and not simply because the government represses opponents. A majority of Tunisians may determine that the benefits of the status quo outweigh the individual and collective costs that a transition would require them to pay. In fact, the country’s history and its current balance of political forces make this the safer bet over the medium term. It does seem clear, though, that political change in Tunisia will not come about through some dramatic event that suddenly replaces the existing order with a new one. The stability–reform dialectic

Not for one second do I write this to sneer at this author. I would imagine that his book is fairly well grounded in history and approximated the best that social scientific predictive powers could do (can you tell which side of the Soc Soc/US v UK debate I am on?). But things happen, some of which simply defy prediction.

Similarly, I find myself defending the likes of David Held. While I don’t know the in-depth bits and pieces of the case, I don’t find the notion that Saif was always a despot bursting to get out and Held was a fool for being fooled particularly persuasive. Yes, there were a number of pointers that Saif was not a nice piece of work (to say the least) and for this reason alone, perhaps Held ought not have interacted with him. This, however, is a different question.

Specifically on the notion that Saif was ‘always’ likely to become some blood-thirsty dictator or some such notion, I’m not sold. I don’t think that it takes much imagination to foresee – minus the Arab Spring (!) – Saif eventually taking over from his delusional, vicious father and leading Libya on something of a more normal path (note I don’t say that he’d be a paragon of virtue and democracy).


Defending the LSE 5, March 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in North Africa.
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There is nothing more nauseating than self-righteous and overly earnest students. Even when I was an undergraduate the angst and self-importance that so many students imbued into their rants deeply annoyed me.

I got more than a whiff of this ‘holier than thou’ attitude in a commentary in  – quelle surprise – the Guardian lamenting how the grand traditions of the London School of Economics (LSE) are being trampled in some sorded quest for money.

Always and forever my main point of grist with these absurd commentaries is their utter lack of appreciation of, well, anything remotely concerned with reality. These people seem to live is some fairy-like world where the exigencies of finding funding to pay to run a University just magically come from some unspecified location.

The quasi-journalist in this little Guardianista rant lambasts the LSE for seeking money from Gaddafi. The way he writes the article implies that the LSE could have run perfectly happily forevermore but the evil, morally bankrupt and corrupt powers that be that have taken over this grand institution, have some kind of insatibale thirst for cash which they can only sate by consorting with idiots like Gaddafi.

Their implicit ‘money just grows on trees’ attitude annoys me terribly.

Had the LSE a choice then I am sure that they would probably not have dealt with Gaddafi. But they don’t. Moreover, let’s not forget that it is all too easy to take advantage of hindsight here. Yes, cleary Gaddafi has been a basket-case for decades. Of this there is no doubt. But can someone explain to me how interacting with him, educating him, his grotty children, other ministers and an assortment of leading Libyans about civil society or democracy can possibly be portreyed as a bad thing? Because this is surely how it is coming across; as if the LSE were selling him weapons or some other morally corrupt product.

I am just so bewildered by it all.

Of course, it it now clear that the basket-case has not lost his brutal touch and that many people misread his recent overtures to the West. C’est la vie. This in no way, shape or form, however, invalidates the LSE’s attempts to educate him otherwise. It is more than a noble cause to attempt. There is no shame in failure.